As companies and their employees try to return to “normal” over two years after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, it has become clear that they are chasing a mirage. Our work mode has evolved on many fronts, and we will never go back to how things were before. Work-from-home has grown in popularity and with it, the number of online meetings — already high before the pandemic — have also steeply increased. For many, the hybrid working week has become the norm but that need for flexible technology to support this is now non-negotiable
Many of us have a workplace setup when working from home that is on par with what we had in the office: wireless high-speed internet, large monitors, high-spec speakers and microphones, and sometimes even influencer-grade lighting. In addition to the physical setup, a plethora of available software products can help us stay connected to everything we need to get work done and accomplish our goals.
The totality of the software infrastructure enabling employees to be productive from anywhere, also known as the digital workplace, has been around for years prior to COVID-19. However, the pandemic has acted as a catalyst to its prevalence. The digital workplace has kept companies and the economy alive, and its merits will remain and even further grow after the pandemic is long gone.
What Constitutes a Digital Workplace?
According to a Reveal survey of over 2,000 people in the IT space, more than half of respondents said their company is planning to incorporate a digital workplace platform this year.
But what constitutes the digital workplace? Aside from hardware like computers, monitors, and peripherals, it is software and the interconnectedness of various applications. Different job functions use their own specific sets of software tools, but other applications provide more generally needed capabilities, such as:
Communication: Synchronous and asynchronous ways to converse with others in a written form or via audio or video.
Collaboration: Being able to share files and work together on creating results.
Task and Project Management: Organising work, tracking progress, and keeping others aware about status and attainment.
Asset Management: Organising and making discoverable files hosting the data and information that individuals, teams and organisations need for their work.
Data Analytics: Creating insights from data and disseminating information through concise and attractive data visualisation.
Human Resources: Managing your people and all their key personnel information,
There is a vast ecosystem of tools that afford these capabilities. They can be categorised into two buckets:
These applications focus on one thing and do that one thing very well. This may be task management, data visualisation, asset management or communication. These tools oftentimes evolve from domain specialists identifying an unmet user need or a shortcoming in existing software for which they ideate a better solution and then productise it as its own tool. Because of the specialisation, any of these tools provide their users with everything they need about that feature set. However, as described above, the digital workplace affords not just one but several abilities to its users. Hence, one specialised solution in isolation would severely limit work productivity. Software vendors offering specialised solutions therefore follow two approaches to mitigate this challenge:
They extend the functionality of their products through integrations and APIs to other tools providing other capabilities.
They add more features to their tool with the goal of covering increased functionality over time.
These programs combine several, if not all, of the above listed capabilities of the digital workplace into one application. Clearly it takes a lot more effort to provide a fully effective and efficient platform to the marketplace than supplying a specialised solution. More domain knowledge is needed, the number of features is higher, the software architecture, information architecture and program logic are more complex. A platform may be the end goal of specialised solutions that, due to limited resources, start small and intend to grow larger.
Why a Platform-Based Approach to the Digital Workplace Makes Sense
Respondents to the Reveal survey mentioned above showed a clear preference for the platform approach. According to them, their companies are cutting down on the number of digital workplace tools in use and striving to provide one platform that offers all needed features within. Here are five reasons why it makes sense to streamline the digital workplace and to reduce the number of individual tools that employees utilise in favour of a single platform, like our very own Oxygen Digital Workplace
- Higher Usability, Productivity and Employee Satisfaction
Typically, each tool comes with its own design language and conceptual model, which requires training and familiarisation for employees to become proficient in its use. Learning and understanding things like the layout, navigation, interaction design, captions, or iconography takes time and effort. Normally, the learning curve for a single platform is significantly steeper than for multiple separate tools, however because the Oxygen Digital Workplace is human-centric and geared to the way you work, we adapt the terminology to the language and phrases your organisation uses, dramatically reducing the learning curve and supercharging engagement at the same time.
A single platform also avoids app switching. Changing tools during the completion of a workflow requires users to adopt to and re-focus on different contexts. In a study from Qatalog and Cornell University, participants spent on average 36 minutes a day switching back and forth between tools. Each time they switch, it takes them about 10 minutes to get back into a good flow. The same study investigated another negative impact of working with multiple applications: the diffusion of information. Almost 70% of participants said that finding information across tools is time-consuming. On average, they spend close to 60 minutes per day looking for the right information.
Integrations and APIs help limit app switching, yet when connections between tools are set up it requires another round of training and familiarisation. Moreover, integrations and APIs typically slow down applications noticeably, thus decreasing user productivity and satisfaction.
- Lower Change Management Effort
The digital workplace provides value as employees adopt, get proficient, and use the infrastructure. However, employees typically do not like to learn new tools. It is a well-known phenomenon that any change is met with an initial resistance and denial, which is exactly why we match the language and terminology to that used by your organisation daily.
Change management as a function is tasked with engaging the workforce before, during and after a change that affects an organisation. The goal is to take employees in the same boat, ensuring a smooth adoption, and upholding productivity as well as morale and satisfaction. A critical part of this, is employee training for new tools. The effort of both providing and receiving training is significantly lower for one platform with one design system and one conceptual model than for several tools that each have their own distinct way of operating.
- Lower Cybersecurity Efforts
More and more software — including digital workplaces — are provided as a service (SaaS). With that, the vendors assume more responsibility for cyber security. Companies that intend to buy SaaS solutions have policies and processes in place to review and approve vendors for adherence to the company’s cyber security standards. In most cases this is done through questionnaires. Going through that process, typically checking off items one by one from a list of requirements, costs time and realistically involves a back and forth between the cyber security team and the tool vendor. In McKinsey’s survey, respondents describe the process as overly time consuming. Gauging vendors’ security levels is not a one-time exercise, either, but must be repeated at certain time intervals. The number of individual tools that the digital workplace is composed of makes a substantial difference in the effort for gaining and maintaining security approvals by the internal cyber security team. A platform is a clear advantage here.
- Lower Acquisition Effort
Procurement and subscription management of one tool is faster and cheaper than managing several separate tools. Consider the typical process through which a new tool is being acquired. On a high level, this includes researching tools that fulfil a list of requirements, signing up for free trials to verify their match to the requirements, and down-selecting to a small number of tools to negotiate cost and terms. On the buyer’s side this can even sometimes involve a dedicated procurement department. Even if we disregard the steps to set up the acquired solution, this acquisition process is faster and cheaper when carried out for one platform instead of several individual tools.
Once the software has been acquired and is in use, continued access needs to be ensured. Managing several subscriptions with their own individual timelines and terms requires more effort than managing a single platform license.
- Lower Effort in User Management
As CareerBuilder reports, younger generations remain in a role for a much shorter period than older generations. By providing the infrastructure to make work more flexible, the digital workplace is contributing to this trend. Aside from this, employees are still being involuntarily released from their jobs, and a growing proportion of citizens in the Western world reaches retirement age and quits working altogether. As employees leave or others join a company, administrators need to manage their subscriptions. It is a considerable difference in effort to do this for one tool versus several tools. This is especially true for larger companies with higher absolute numbers of turnover and with central functions (the IT team more often than not) that need to register all changes in the employee pool requiring subscriptions.
The Digital Workplace Is Here to Stay
The digital workplace helped us throughout the pandemic and is here to stay. According to data from Accenture, almost two out of three high-growth companies have already adopted a “productivity anywhere” workforce model. These companies are now striving to streamline their digital toolboxes towards a single platform. Learning from this, the remaining third of the companies can now opt to buy a platform from the beginning. Whether you and your company are in the two thirds or one third category, the digital workplace is not set in stone. For it to continuously help companies and their employees to thrive, it will further evolve.
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